Why, God?

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34:18

In the year 2000, a small group of devoted monks moved from the relative comfort of their lives to Norcia, Italy to re-establish the monastery founded there long ago by St. Benedict. Their sole purpose was to love and serve God through the solitude and simplicity of the ancient monastic life.

Then in October of 2016, the Basilica of St. Benedict, built in the 14th century as the center of this monastery’s worship, collapsed in an earthquake. It was a shocking tragedy. The monks couldn’t help wondering how God could allow the destruction of this cathedral when it was built by, and then used for centuries by, those who loved him sacrificially.

They mourned the loss of this great place of worship, but soon all their spiritual training kicked in, and they began to make plans for starting over. One writer described their reaction as “receiv(ing) this catastrophe as a call for deeper holiness and sacrifice.”*

Is that how we respond to crises in our lives? As a “call for deeper holiness and sacrifice?” Not usually. More often our response is “Why, God?” I think it’s OK to ask, but if the answer doesn’t come (and often it doesn’t – at least not right away), we need to accept what has happened and move closer to God as we pick up the pieces.

One of the monks said, “These are mysteries which will take years – not days or months – to understand.”*

Do you have an unanswered “why?” in your life? Let’s not let God’s silence stop us from answering his call to deeper holiness. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it!

“Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God.” – Sam Storm

*Both quotes are cited in The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher (Sentinel Books: New York, New York), 2017, p. 243

Disease

“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” – Malachi 4:2

We have treatments for many illnesses these days: medicines, pain killers, physical therapy, even surgeries when the simple fixes don’t work. Then there are things that aren’t so easy to treat: cancer, psychological disorders, or even epidemic viruses that come suddenly on the scene.

For some in this world it seems nearly everything is untreatable. In less-developed countries, many people don’t even have aspirin, the nearest doctor may be miles away, and getting there is on foot. What to do when disease strikes and there is no treatment, no cure?

The crowds following Jesus in Bible times were in similar circumstances. They sought him out because they were sick or disabled and had no hope but him. When they pleaded for help, he responded with compassion, and they were made whole.

Some of us need that kind of healing in our lives today, don’t we? The kind for which there is no ready cure. Our needs might relate to our bodies, but often to our minds or emotions as well.

Most of us have some kind of dis-ease we face every day. What do we do? If there’s a treatment we can get from a doctor or a counselor, we need to do so. But sometimes what we are dealing with is something only God can heal.

If Jesus were here, we’d go to him just as the crowds did centuries ago.

Remember, he’s still here.

He’s still loving.

He invites us to bring our dis-ease to him. Let’s be as bold as those early followers and ask him to intervene today.

“The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and the acceptance of love.” – Marianne Williamson

Sailing or Drifting?

“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” – Hebrews 2:1

Years ago, I had a friend, Phyllis, who owned a small sailboat, and we shared some sunny afternoons on that boat, sailing across Spring Lake and back.

When we pushed out, Phyllis would choose a spot across the lake and set her sail toward that point, making corrections along the way to keep us on course. Working with the wind to move us in the right direction required constant attention. But we always reached our destination and always returned to our home port safely, and usually dry!

There is a spiritual truth here. Generally, we don’t turn around and sail away from God. Instead, we drift away. One day we wake up and realize how far we are from him. What can we do?

Be intentional: Phyllis always had her eye on the shore, skillfully keeping us on course. Spiritually, we need to keep God always in focus, adjusting our activities, decisions, and relationships to be constantly moving toward him. It won’t just happen. We have to work at it.

Pay attention: If we ever take our attention off the rudder or the sail, we drift and the results can be disastrous. We must not let distractions interfere with our goal.

If we have drifted away from God, let’s get back on course. We can place him in our mind’s eye and keep him there. Then we pay attention by filling our mind with the important and by not being distracted by the inconsequential. Set the sail and stay on course. He’s worth it!

“You either line yourself up with the Son of God . . .or you capitulate to the principle which governs the rest of the world.”– Elisabeth Elliott

Surrender

“Just as water ever seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds you abased and empty, His glory and power flow in.” – Andrew Murray

Most of us don’t like the word surrender. It sounds like giving up, giving in, letting someone else take over our lives. It sounds like an unhappy ending to a long war. And it sounds risky. Actually surrender can be all those things.

When we look at it spiritually, though, we realize surrender to God isn’t defeat, it’s voluntarily giving control of everything to him. And it’s not risky. Yielding to him is the safest thing we can do!

And there are rewards: “It is wonderful what miracles God works in wills that are utterly surrendered to Him. He turns hard things into easy and bitter things into sweet.” (Hannah Whitall Smith).

Have you ever surrendered everything to God? Holding nothing back? If not, today may be the day to do that. Then I’ve found I need to re-surrender on occasion because the me in me creeps back in to take back control from God. Here’s my prayer of surrender for today, maybe it can be yours, too:

Dear God,

I surrender my body to you – its health, shape, aches, its need for protection, and its power.

I surrender my heart to you – its wounds, desires, regrets, and hopes.

I surrender my mind to you – its learning, meditations, its every thought.

I surrender my spirit to you – gladly, joyfully, for its keeping for all of eternity.

My whole self, Lord. Nothing kept back, no place you can’t enter – without reservation, without restriction – forever.

Amen

“. . . offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.-“ Romans 6:13b

Confused? Frustrated?

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” – Luke 24:32

If you feel challenged and confused these days, you’re not alone! Many are mourning the absence of life as they knew it and are wondering how things will change when everything settles down. What will the new normal look like?

After Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples struggled with some of those same challenges. They’d believed Jesus was the Messiah. They’d followed and trusted him over several years, and now he was dead. They couldn’t imagine what their new normal would look like.

On the Sunday after Jesus’ death, two disciples were walking toward the town of Emmaus when a third man joined them on the journey. Luke tells us that their faces were “downcast”. Their new companion listened as they told him about the events over the past three days – Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, and their crushed hopes. And now, some were telling of an empty tomb, and that confused the situation all the more.

Don’t you love that Jesus. though unrecognized, was with them right then in their confusion and pain? Through Scripture, he began to make everything clear. And, when they sat down for a meal, he prayed and broke bread and at that moment they recognized it was Jesus who had been with them all along! He listened to their problems, taught them from Scripture, and revealed himself to them – alive!

Jesus is here in our confusion, too, and his mode is still to listen, teach, and reveal. Don’t you think we can trust that he will help make sense of whatever we are going through? I do!

“All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” – Julian of Norwich

Can you believe it?

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” – Isaiah 26:3

Do you know why the people of Israel were forced to wander in the desert for 40 years after being delivered dramatically from slavery in Egypt, given the Ten Commandments, and led by the great prophet Moses?

My first thoughts: They disobeyed God by worshipping a golden calf, they grumbled a lot, and they even suggested they should go back to Egypt. But the writer of Hebrews lets us in on the true problem: They didn’t believe God!

After recounting their bad behavior, he sums things up by saying, “So we see that they were not able to enter because of their unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19). After all God had done for them, they still didn’t trust him to fight the giants and give them the land. Unbelief kept an entire generation from receiving the blessings God had prepared for them.

Our trust in God is fundamental to his active involvement in our lives. In fact, Jesus said we needed to believe before our prayers would be answered. If we want to grow our ability to trust, maybe we start by believing some things God has already promised:

  • Your pain won’t last forever.  (Psalm 30:5)
  • Justice will come. (Psalm 103:6)
  • Your needs will be met. (Philippians 4:19)
  • God’s Word will show the way. (Psalm 119:105)
  • Relating to him will give you strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)
  • You don’t have to be afraid. (Psalm 23:4)
  • God has a place and purpose for you. (Philippians 2:13)

Our earthly and eternal well-being depend on believing in the God of the Bible so much that we entrust our lives to him. None of us trusts him perfectly, but we can begin today to do it better!

“Man says, ‘Show me and I’ll trust you’. God says, “Trust me and I’ll show you.” – Anonymous

The Narrows

“Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path . . . with walls on both sides.” – Numbers 22:24

A few years ago, we traveled with some of our family to Zion National Park where we entered “The Narrows”. It’s the most confined section of the canyon where, at times, you can touch both sides of the towering rock walls as you walk through with a river underfoot. I’m not fond of closed-in spaces, so I knew that hike was not for me!

Sometimes we don’t have a choice about how narrow our lives get, and the walls can seem too confining. Some of you are feeling that now when you can’t leave your home even for work. We’re used to wide open spaces – highways, malls, meeting places, beaches, and parks. Now we are kept inside with only occasional recourse to the outside world.

No matter if we are sequestering alone or with a large family, God is waiting with us in the narrows. He offers grace for each day, mercy in our stresses, hope that the wide-open spaces will soon reappear, and joy as we step cautiously through the restricted pathways of our present lives.

To access that grace, mercy, hope, and joy, we need to do one thing: Let our hearts be soft enough to receive. These gifts are there for us. Jesus is simply asking that you recognize he is with you in the small space and acknowledge you need him. As you turn toward him, he will respond. He always does.

Let’s be open to God today! When we do, the walls will seem to disappear, and the vastness of eternity will enter.

“. . . a bench outdoors, a porch swing, a chair in the library. Such places, as much as a church pew, provide openings to grace.” – Emilie Griffin

He’s calling you.

. . . they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.”– Mark 10:49

Imagine being blind in a world where there’s no economic safety net. Every day someone leads you to a spot on the road where people pass by. You call out when you hear them coming, just hoping someone will have mercy and give you a coin or two. Imagine that life day after day. No change. Nothing to look at. Unthinkable boredom. No hope. Then you hear of Jesus and his miracles. Maybe, just maybe, he would give you more than a coin and everything would change!

When blind Bartimaeus heard Jesus was on his way to Jericho, he was determined to get his attention. So, he shouted, begging Jesus to stop, to be merciful, to respond to his need. He was so obnoxious that people around him asked him to quiet down. But Jesus heard his cry and spoke to some who were nearby, “Call him.” They went over to Bartimaeus and gave him this amazing message, “Take heart. Get up. He is calling you.” 

Bartimaeus got to his feet and allowed the men to lead him to Jesus where his life was changed in an instant. He could see! No more need for someone to lead him by the hand. No more need to beg in order to survive. No more mind-numbing existence sitting alongside the road. New life began the moment he met Jesus.

Where are you in life today? Jesus hears your cry and he’s calling you. He asks that you take heart, get up, and come to him. Only he can change your life!

“Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.” – Augustine of Hippo

Trouble with trusting?

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4

I recently read Paul’s recitation of his immaculate pedigree as a passionate follower of God through Judaism. When he became a Christian, his new understanding made him realize he’d been trusting in his own goodness and zeal to earn God’s favor. After his encounter with Jesus, he understood that none of his efforts earned him any gold stars from God. Instead, God’s favor was gained by putting his trust in Christ, not himself. A commentator on Paul said, “It takes humility to trust.”

I began to think about ways in which pride can block our ability to trust God. Maybe it’s because humility means . . .

  •  acknowledging our own helplessness to change a situation.
  •  realizing that only God can see the future so knows best what to do for us and others.
  •  giving up control.
  •  accepting that what God chooses might hurt us for a time, but a greater purpose will be accomplished, even in our pain.
  •  believing, even when we can’t understand, that God is who he says he is and all his words are true.

You can imagine with me why it’s hard for a proud person to do the things listed above. Our pride doesn’t like helplessness, submission, accepting the truths in God’s word without argument. If there is any pride in us, we’ll find it hard to trust God.

Are you having trouble with trust? We all do, sometimes. When that happens, we should examine ourselves and root out whatever may be prideful or self-serving. Every time we do that with sincerity, we find it easier to trust God – our faith grows and his ability to use us grows.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” – Anonymous

Did God say “no”?

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9

God speaks often about persistence in prayer, asking until we receive, and trusting he hears and will respond. But, apparently, there are times when we need to stop storming the gates of heaven for an answer we want desperately. Sometimes God simply says “no”. 

If that’s happened to you, you’re in good company. Moses had that experience when he pleaded with God to let him go over with the people into the promised land and God said: “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter” (Deuteronomy 3:26b). In other words, “Stop asking me, Moses. I already told you ‘no'”.

Paul had something similar happen when he prayed three times for his physical problem to be taken away. God didn’t answer the prayer the way Paul had hoped, but he did promise that his grace would see Paul through the difficulty.

If Moses and Paul, amazing saints, didn’t always get “yesses” to their prayers, we realize that sometimes we, too, have to accept “no” as an answer! When that happens, what do we do?

  • We stop repeating a prayer we know God has already said “no” to.
  • We don’t protest.
  • We persevere, asking for faith to rely on him to be with us in the difficult circumstance.
  • We acknowledge, as Paul did, that human weakness can be an avenue through which God displays his power – in ways we couldn’t even think to pray about.
  • We keep on loving, trusting, and worshiping God.

And then, at some point, we’ll find that God’s “no” was a great blessing!

“God’s refusals are always merciful – ‘severe mercies’ at times – but mercies all the same. God never denies us our heart’s desire except to give us something better.” – Elisabeth Elliot